A touch of Norway in America

Photo: Norway Art. "Idyll" by Skredsvig; one of Norway Art's many available prints.

Photo: Norway Art. Idyll by Skredsvig; one of Norway Art’s many available prints.

Successful small business Norway Art connects Norwegian art to North America 

Christy Olsen Field
Managing Editor
Norwegian American Weekly

Instilled with a love of Norway from childhood, Mary Jo Thorsheim of Norway Art® is committed to bringing images of her ancestors’ homeland to decorate the walls of homes, offices and organizations everywhere.

The cozy Norway Art space leased from the Sons of Norway in Minneapolis, Minn., is full of vibrant colors and high-quality prints and original artwork mostly imported from Norway. (Some of the beautiful art is from Sweden and Denmark.) Although the business is mostly mail-order, visitors who want to browse or consider purchases are warmly welcomed by appointment.

“My goal was to create a new bridge between Norway and America and to show the beauty of Norway through landscapes and interiors. Before photography, paintings depicted the history and life of people. I want Norway Art’s pieces to characterize Norway in an accurate way and reflect the variety of its regions and landscapes, from cities to mountains and the coast, so that people can have art that connects them to their heritage,” said Thorsheim.

Thorsheim’s lifelong art studies and interest in art turned a hobby into a passion, making Norway Art a comprehensive source of Norwegian art in North America. It’s important to mention, however, that Norway Art is just one part of Thorsheim’s life – she holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology, is a research consultant and has been a full professor teaching graduate students about research design. Her first degree and years of work were in occupational therapy. In addition, Thorsheim is an author and publisher of two books: “Biography of a Building: The personalities of 2615 Park Avenue” and “Three Little Eagles and How They Grew” with her publishing company Park Press Minneapolis. It was her own love of Norwegian art that inspired Norway Art.

“When I began traveling to Norway in 1960s, I searched for prints of my favorite pieces and couldn’t find any,” said Thorsheim. “While in graduate school in the late 1970s, I realized that if I really wanted to import art, I just needed to do it. On a trip to Norway in July 1979, I designed my logo on the train between Stavanger and Oslo and planned for meetings that I had set up in Oslo with Norwegian print publishing companies.”

The publishers were interested in Thorsheim’s idea about bringing Norwegian prints to North America and business partnerships were established.

Today, Thorsheim still carefully selects prints to import that have a strong focus on portraying Norway in its natural beauty, but the business has grown to include art from Denmark and Sweden as well. She presents programs, lectures and exhibits on Scandinavian art, and appraises original art.

“I want to help Norwegian-Americans connect to their own heritage, and art is a powerful way to do that,” she said.

Thorsheim’s art clients come from across the U.S., Canada and Norway. They include business, corporations, collections, interior design firms, hotels, assisted living facilities, schools, churches and more. Invididuals enjoy the art in their apartments, houses, cabins. Retail and wholesale arrangements are offered to shops, museums, and a variety of organizations. Since many of them are not available to visit her Minneapolis showroom, she does quite a bit of consulting over the phone and email.

“Interior design that features Norwegian art that is either a centerpiece or an accessory gives a wonderful feeling to a space,” said Thorsheim. Color schemes may be based on those in a painting; subjects of paintings can reflect owners’ interests; landscapes expand spaces by giving the perspective of a view or looking through a window. Contemporary flair can come from groupings of two or three pieces, placing one important piece on a floor easel or small pieces on shelves or table tops, or even filling a wall with prints and paintings in the “salon” style from Europe that is often seen in homes in Norway.

“People are often looking for a larger piece to look nice above a couch or fireplace. It’s important that the piece matches them and their lives. We want it to look nice in the setting, and that they have a connection to it,” said Thorsheim. “Quite a few younger people come to Norway Art, and I love the bonding of generations that comes through art. People come in to find a piece their grandmother had, and want a copy of it for their own home. I had a set of three sisters who all wanted a copy of the same print that their parents had hanging in their home!”

Thorsheim imports prints of the classic Norwegian painters such as Tidemand and Gude, Werenskiold, Skredsvig, and modern artists like Elling Reitan.

When asked about her favorite artist, she replied: “I like Hans Dahl because of the beautiful Norwegian landscape and costumed figures he was able to portray in his work. Elling Reitan, the modern artist, is also a favorite – I curated a show in Minneapolis of his work in 2005, and we have been in contact ever since. It’s hard to pick a favorite, though!”

An invaluable resource for art from the home country, Norway Art is an important bridge between Norway and North America.

For more information, visit www.norwayartonline.com or call (612) 339-7829 or (612) 871-2236.

This article originally appeared in the July 13, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.